Should you wander into a midtown New York delicatessen some Wednesday at noon and notice a rather odd-looking unfashionable crew of elderly folk – in their late sixties and seventies and eighties – purposefully and avidly engrossed in their excessive talk and then, when the food comes, even more purposefully and avidly devouring those pastrami sandwiches and omelets and other forbidden senior delights – you will know you have come upon a select crew: the Brooklyn College newspaper staff circa 1940’s.
Their friendship dates from those halcyon days when a student’s full tuition in the city colleges (now CUNY) was a huge 25$ Athletic Fee. It was then that there flourished in Brooklyn this impoverished band of bards who while pursuing baccalaureates for their 25 bucks, did a little writing on the side. This particularly lusty,loud and eccentric crew coalesced there on Flatbush Avenue. Believe it or not Brooklyn College had a REAL campus, lots of grass and a lily pond! It was the perfect bucolic spot to idle near or to march around singing protest songs.Probably the only lily pond in the entire university. In 1941 when I became a cub reporter on the Brooklyn College Vanguard, there were not many male reporters. But the veterans returned in the late forties and the staff grew and the newspaper office in Boylan Hall became a joyous raucous home away from home.
Most of us were first in our families to go to college; my own family objected so strenuously, I had to leave home and live as a babysitter while I studied. But I found time to be a reporter on Vanguard and I loved it. I wanted to be a writer in real life; this was an apprenticeship. I wrote humor columns and feature stories and I covered campus events. When Dannon Yogurt was first imported and came to the Brooklyn College cafeteria, I went down to the Dannon factory to cover the story. The Dannon official was very friendly; he confided that they were a bit puzzled that their advertising had not brought the expected return. He showed me their ads all of which featured the fact that their yogurt was filled with bacteria. I hesitantly pointed out that bacteria might scare Americans away. He looked thoughtful. Six months later he sent me a lovely compact and a note of thanks. My first commercial writing success!
An astonishing number of my Vanguard compeers became fine and famous journalists and writers. Harry Gideonse, the angry and vindictive college president is long gone; Brooklyn College has its newspaper and we old friends still meet to enjoy our camaraderie. I remember lunching lavishly on the free rye bread that came along with my dieting friend’s salads. Mayonnaise sandwiches. These days I can afford delicatessen and I savor it. I’ve come a long way.